Books: Paperbacks

Hell For Leather

by Robert Winder,

Indigo, pounds 7.99

256pp

TO WHILE away the soggy days predicted for the Cricket World Cup later this month, treat yourself to this cracking account of England's inglorious performance in the last World Cup in 1996. Robert Winder's keen observation is seasoned with wry humour, as when the press corps finds a pile of hashish in a Pakistan airport. "Bloody hell," one says. "Good job Beefy [Botham] isn't here." Winder groans that our lads seem keener on golf than cricket. But back home, he soars after catching David Gower at a charity match and Phil Tufnell says: "Top drawer, Rob." "I could have died and gone to heaven."

All Points North

by Simon Armitage,

Penguin, pounds 6.99

246pp

TACKLING SIMILAR themes, a notch or two down the social scale, as Alan Bennett's Writing Home, this collection of the poet's prose off- cuts deserves equal success. Simon Armitage's downbeat humour is much in evidence, whether discovering that his insurance premium is higher as a poet than when he was working as a probation officer ("Nutters and all that," explains Direct Line) or noting a warning on whisky-flavoured condoms: "This product should not be used while driving." Too long to outline here, the Margaret Drabble joke on page 61 is the funniest thing you will hear from a poet this year.

Eyewitness to Discovery

edited by Brian M Fagan,

Oxford, pounds 14.99

494pp

"CAN YOU see anything?" "Yes, wonderful things," said Howard Carter, squinting at King Tut's treasure trove. The reverse of dry as dust, these 50 first-person accounts of archaeological finds are amazing. In Mexico, dazzling murals revealed that the Maya, far from being peaceful, inflicted gory torture on their prisoners. In 113BC, a Chinese emperor had a 2,700- piece jade suit constructed to save his body from corruption, but all that remained of him in 1968 were a few teeth. The serene expression on the face of an Iron Age body, preserved in a Danish bog, proved to be illusory. There was a garotte around his neck.

Kilvert's Diary

edited by William Plomer,

Pimlico, pounds 10

350pp

LIVING IN the idyllic Welsh borders in the 1870s, the Reverend Francis Kilvert wrote wonderfully about the natural world, but he applied the same acuity to human foibles. He did not spare himself, as in his red-faced account of knocking on the wrong door in a hotel and running away. Gnawed by sexual longings ("Her little foot peeped out. I thought it was the prettiest foot I ever saw"), his efforts to find a bride were continually rebuffed. This may account for his Lewis Carroll- like penchant for young girls. His diary is lent an underlying melancholy by our knowledge that he finally married at 38, only to die a month later.

No More Mr Nice Guy

by Howard Jacobson,

Vintage, pounds 6.99

260pp

FRANK RITZ (award-winning television critic) and his wife (writer of erotica for the Woman's Hour woman) live together in modem-connected splendour in leafy Dulwich Village. When relations irretrievably break down, Frank kick-starts his new life with a grand tour of his sexual past. Beginning in Oxford (memories of a Finnish language student), he proceeds to Cheltenham in search of a woman and a hairbrush. Not as dark a writer as Philip Roth, Jacobson and his menopausal males see the joke too soon and too often. An entertaining and intermittently risque novel that has something to say to both sexes about what really goes on in bed.

Two Moons

by Jennifer Johnston,

Review, pounds 6.99

232pp

FOR ANY other writer, Jennifer Johnston's subject matter - angels, illicit love and midnight swims - might be a dangerous combination, but in Johnston's capable hands the overall effect is simply poetic. A rose- covered house overlooking Dublin Bay is home to Grace (a still beautiful Shakespearean actress) and Mimi, her elderly mother. But following an unexpected visit by Grace's daughter, Polly, and her striking new actor boyfriend, life in the house is never quite the same. In goes the aromatic chicken, out come the stars, and several invitations to indiscretion. All the makings of the luvviest of screen-plays.

Model Behaviour

by Jay McInerney,

Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99

230pp

JAY McINERNEY has written a string of respectable novels since his glittering debut Bright Lights, Big City, but has never quite main- lined the zeitgeist in the same sensational way. His latest novel, a satire set among the silicon-enhanced models and magazine editors of New York's glamour industry, revisits some of the haunts and themes of Bright Lights... , and features another appealingly edgy hero - a man who is about to lose both his job and his would-be actress girlfriend. One of America's most stylish stylists, McInerney still revels in the city where Narcissus is king, and Anna Wintour and Al Pacino get all the best tables.

Mr MacGregor

by Alan Titchmarsh,

Pocket Books, pounds 5.99

296pp

IT'S WOMEN, not blue-coated rabbits, that are driving this particular Mr MacGregor to distraction. A Yorkshire lad plucked from the gardening column of the Nesfield Gazette, Rob MacGregor's "drop- dead gorgeous" looks have earned him a place in the cheesier corridors of lifestyle TV - much like his creator, gardening legend Alan Titchmarsh. In this story of showbiz glamour, and sex among the gro-bags, the most dangerous snake in the garden turns out to belong to Rob (in a scene shortlisted for last year's Literary Review Bad Sex Award). Time for Mr MacGregor to get back to his radishes and the bosom of his girl.

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